2 June, 2023


21st Century Socialism: Respect For Nature & Opposition To Consumerism!

By Hema Senanayake

Hema Senanayake

Hema Senanayake

The proposition in the above caption is not something that I am proposing. Instead, it has been proposed by the 21st Century socialists. The above caption is the 2nd characteristic out of the five characteristics proposed by Bolivarian revolutionaries for 21st century socialism. Sumansiri Liyanage brought the said list to our notice through one of his recent articles to Colombo Telegraph.

In regard to the above point, one of the readers of Colombo Telegraph, namely Ramona Therese Fernando who wrote a comment to one of my articles related to the same issue. Since she raised a question which resonates with many “passionate” people, I promised her a detailed reply. This is it. In regard to human needs, she now observes as follows:

“We need Non-GMO paddy-fields, vegetables and fruits; we need cotton to weave our clothes. We need some stationary and confectionary. We need some furniture; we need some kitchen utensils, and nice housing. We need some movies to watch, and some sports to play, beer and toddy to drink, and some movies to watch. We need some jewelry; we need some cosmetics, some deodorant and a bit of perfume from flowers.”

“But what on earth do we want i-phones, i-pads, online games industry, space age building space-ships to Mars, and experimental GMO-food production so colony on Mars can be started, Robots to take over human jobs, rampant sex industry and uncontrolled online ditto, FB and on CT (although these two are part of the “economic efficiency” capitalistic money making trend, they can fortunately give interactive awareness into the foibles of the money making psychosis). And on top of that is the Casio industry to use the ultimate excess of human greed to be the final frontier of the money-market.”

A participant carries a child on his shoHer observation is interesting. I think it is her genuine opinion about human needs. I have nothing against her. A few years ago, a religious leader who felt in the same way as Ramona, launched a campaign in the United States to stop shopping, and his church was named as “Stop-shopping Church.” I have nothing against them too. But unfortunately there is a law in economics that prevents in indulging extreme consumerism. We all got to behave according to that law until we change that economic law consciously. Extreme consumerism, even though it appears to be originating from individual human choice, it is not so; rather, it is a systemic need. This is the point I want to explain in this article, so that 21st Century socialist might understand that it requires to replace the existing economic law or rule with a new economic law that supports avoiding extreme consumerism if they are serious about consumerism. This might require a greater wisdom and analysis than putting up slogans like the one mentioned in the caption above.

Before, I explain the said economic law, let me bring another piece of economic theory which is known as “marginal utility theory.” The same theory is sometime known as the “law of diminishing marginal utility.” Economists believe that this theory or law explains a rationale behavior of human kind. Let me explain it by citing a simple example. If you drink a glass of water when you feel thirsty, you might feel a greater utility of that glass of water. Now, you are being offered another glass of water, then perhaps still you feel the utility (usefulness) of that second glass of water but not by so much as of the first glass of water. This situation is generalized by economists as follows:

“The first unit of consumption of a good or service yields more utility than the second and subsequent units” (Wikipedia). This seems rationale and logical. But this law is not true; perhaps it might be true only for water; yet, in regard to a greater number of consumable goods and services, it seems the marginal utility theory is not true.

In general, psychologists agree that the marginal utility theory explains a very natural human behavior. But this behavior has been distorted in the present capitalist system. People want to consume more and more or they have been pushed to consume more and more. There is a certain economic parameter known as “consumer confidence index.” It measures the consumers’ interest in buying things. If consumer confidence is good the government is happy. If consumer confidence is weak then the government knows that an economic recession is around the corner. Therefore, governments do whatever possible to increase consumer confidence. In other words governments want people to keep buying more and more. Can you ever think of stopping consumerism under these circumstances? Never!

An economic recession means the reduction of output gradually. When output is reduced for two consecutive quarters, then it is officially defined as a recession by economists. When system produces less, then it requires lesser amount of workers. Hence, in fact, reduction of output in a recession is not the real problem, instead the real problem is the unemployment created by recessions. Modern capitalism has temporarily resolved the question of unemployment by promoting consumerism. That is why they keep an eye on “consumer confidence index.”

Capitalist economist John Maynard Keynes presents an important theory about unemployment and a suggestion to prevent unemployment. He says that any employer or consumer goods producer would produce something with an expectation that he would get a certain income out of the expenditure of consumers. If he did not get what he expects then he reduce his production and slashed jobs. This is common sense. Further Keynes says that when the income of the community increases people tend to save more since their needs have already been satisfied. This idea too, is very logical. Read the next point carefully. Keynes further insists that if the peoples’ savings are not invested, entrepreneurs would not get back what they expect from consumers. If this happens what the entrepreneurs would do? – They slash jobs. Even if savings are invested it also must be done subject to one condition. That condition is that the investments made must not produce goods or services for immediate consumption. If investments produce goods for immediate consumption, again entrepreneurs would not get back what they expect from consumer spending which would result unemployment. Hence, investments must be used to produce goods and services which would be made available in the future. If that happens there will be full employment, since entrepreneurs get back what they expect from consumers. This is an accurate explanation of modern capitalistic production system.

Now, what does it mean by investing in producing goods and services which would be made available in the future? It simply means that we need to add more and more consumable output year after year. For what? – In order to ensure that we have full employment. This is why capitalist economists keep an eye on “consumer confidence index.” This is how extreme consumerism has been a systemic need in modern capitalist system. For people keeping their employment is much more important than countering consumerism.

This system cannot be replaced just putting up more humane slogans. This system can be replaced only by an alternative economic system in which entrepreneurs would get back what they expect from consumers at any level of production; no matter whether the production is increased or decreased or stay stagnant based on individual consumer preference. In such a system only we can counter consumerism while having full employment. In fact in such a system only we can nurture the natural human behavior that explains in marginal utility theory.

However, if 21st Century socialists think that such a system can be put in place in a society where the production is done according to the “Natural unadulterated instinct of each group and race of people”, I am sorry; I have no argument for them. Rather, I like to go for a systemic change which supports human “instinct”.

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Latest comments

  • 1

    GMO – crops are used by the multinational companies to increase the value of the shares, probably you also have bought those shares.

    There is nothing in this world which gives only “good results” as any thing and every thing would destroy the “value system” of some one.

    In that perspective what is wrong with GMO crops ? Any way those crossed or interbred naturally will produce new crops. They are GMOs too, but naturally.

    See how humans are interbreeding and the progeny looks very mixed.

    So, what is socialism, economic or every thing ?

    • 0

      Jim softy,
      Crops cross and breed naturally within an evolutionary time period of say 10,000 years. Humans have evolved and cross-bred along with these same plants. Human DNA and gut are used to assimilating and absorbing the foods it evolved along with. Human DNA and gut will find it hard to digest and absorb these new GMO-foods. These new super foods tend to mutate the human DNA and gut. The incidence of autism and other associated disorders are at an all-time high.

      To cross breed artificially disregards the chronology of time. It is not a natural interbreeding but a deliberate dabbling in nature’s own DNA structures.

      It’s not the same as human naturally cross breeding. It is more like scientists artificially creating GMO -babies taking different genes from several different mothers and fathers. The techniques are still being perfected and there’s no knowing if it will be ever as good as the natural time-honored product.

      But why dabble in all of this when we can produce natural children and foods, by just being normal and good, and having a more moral and socialized system. This is surely must be the final precipice of the capitalist system (casinos being so innocent comparatively): the mad scramble of creating money by splicing nature’s own building blocks.

  • 0

    Hema Senanayake,
    It was a good article, and I learned a lot about economics and how capitalism operates. I don’t know much about economics and finances, but I try and understand it from a layman point of view.

    It seems that products are produced and sold to fulfill the consumer need. Through skillful marketing, excess is sold till it reaches a saturation point. If not done with good insight, the balance is lost and countries go into recession and jobs are lost. So there is a pull and push till a balance is reached, but the telling of good consumer index point is tricky, and prone to too many interferences from outside an operating country. Then a projection of say, 30-years is given for future capitalistic enterprise based on investment of excess personal income (I am thinking of 30 year home mortgage loans).

    It is not too sustainable after about 30 years, is it? It can go on as long as there are places to buy from you that do not produce their own. But when places produce their own, the same index of selling regresses (like the US involvement in China for the use of cheap Chinese labor, and now China is selling back to the US, or having more of the very same global currency that US invented.

    It is complex and complicated, and can go on indefinitely only till another more viable system dissimilar to it is realized. Products have to keep getting upgraded to keep up the buyers’ market. For example, the computer industry needs to come up with newer and improved models. But the improvements are usually out of synch to the actuality of any true need of the masses, and more based on market trends of the wealthy who can afford to indulge in speculation and ownership. Trouble is that the index created by such buying and selling creates artificial monetary and economic systems that are geared towards a niche part of the globe, but yet raises the monetary average for the masses.

    Capitalism was created when the US and West destroyed all their natural farmlands, and long- enduring farming culture, like that of the Native Indians for the US. Various historical reasons brought this about e.g. harsh climatic conditions, religious persecution and greed of the monarchs (quite different from the socialistic Buddhist perceptions of the Lankan monarchs, and the temperate and salubrious climatic conditions in the tropics before they cut down trees), and conquest and invasion.

    But from Sri Lanka’s perspective, we still have a large rural sector of self-sufficiency. So why destroy or overlook that potential when over half of Sri Lanka’s population abides on natural sustenance of the heritage? Why is it that we want to emulate the mad scramble of the West?

    It is true that we must be progressive to an extent. We can subscribe to the rest of the global capitalistic trends by opening up to tourism, for example. But why should we, for example cut up our land to produce more and more garments, or semiconductors, or spare parts for cars, when people are already employed in fulfilling and healthy rural activities like farming and fishing?

    Indeed, any profits we make from capitalistic ventures should go to secure the rural sector of farming and fishing, so they can have free and adequate social programs like education and healthcare (it is already there, but it certainly has to be improved). It should be adequate enough so they will not need to surplus their livelihoods by going to the ME, or sending their daughters to work in garments factories. When families do so, they are only encouraging and driving the consumer index up with unnecessary money to further fuel the capitalistic propulsion.

    It is like the realization of the big cities of the US nowadays, where they find it cheaper to actually spend money on housing and basic social programs for their poor – the cities find that they take more out of their budgets to incarcerate crimes that come out of poverty due to inadequate housing and social programs. But in the US case, the poor do not really contribute to the economy, and are not self-sustaining like the Lankan rural sector. Also the Lankan rural and heritage sector contribute greatly to the tourist industry – in fact, they are the reason for the tourist industry.

    Nowadays, in the threat of looming perpetual recessions, the West is tentatively opening up suggestions towards rural farming. There is no other improved system for capitalism, but only for the West to indulge in another war (Nuclear this time), so they can stay on top of the game, and remain the top-honcho consumerists. Sri Lanka however, already has that strong rural sector. Having that strong sector begs the question again of why we should succumb to the capitalistic trend so as to have that Singapore look.

    Why should US short-term heritage of capitalistic necessity become our heritage? We should follow our natural instincts and know-how to create a society of a happiness index that is most natural to us.

    In Lankan political scene, UNP seems to be very enamored of the US system. Lankan heritage is scorned upon, and those who make the most money are considered as being of a higher voting parity. When the needs of the masses come up, it is deemed as xenophobia.

    UPFA, on the other hand wants to protect the heritage and rights of the masses. They will subscribe to the Chinese plan, and create a mega port city for foreign transaction, while attempting to retain the country spirit. That might be impossibility, for two different ideologies cannot exist so close to each other under the same flag. There will be a natural craving for all that is glittering, even if not gold (some natural craving are just wrong, and are not to be encouraged, like murder and promiscuity)- discontentment index will be high. There’s also no knowing of when China’s capitalistic progression will come to a stalemate, thus making the port-city a white elephant.

    Best is that we follow a socialist system with a party that understands the heritage and needs of the masses. It should be something like the Myanmar plan, but with lesser paranoia and greater acknowledgement of the already commercialized processes in the cities, that should be retained to be in synergy with the heritage of the masses.

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